The latest hope for a Japanese MMA resurgence, Hatsu Hioki has won his first two fights inside the Octagon and will look for a third victory at Friday's UFC on FX 4. After reportedly turning down a title fight against featherweight champion Jose Aldo, Hioki will look to avoid making a disastrous decision by losing against Ricardo Lamas.
Since losing to the surging Yuri Alcantara, Lamas has won back-to-back fights against Matt Grice and Cub Swanson. With an upset win over Hioki, the 30-year-old Lamas could unexpectedly jump into title shot conversation.
With less than one week until this pivotal featherweight matchup, let's take a look at whether Hioki or Lamas has a better chance of walking away with the victory.
Hatsu Hioki has never been knocked out in his 32-fight career, but one of the main reasons for that is his ability to take opponents to the ground. In his most recent fight with dynamic striker Bart Palaszewski, Hioki was able to secure two of five takedowns attempts and kept his opponents back on the canvas for the majority of the fight.
With three knockouts in his career, Ricardo Lamas has some knockout power, but his stand-up technique isn't strong enough to land frequently against an opponent of Hioki's caliber. Lamas has also suffered the only two losses of his career via knockout, so, like Hioki, he prefers for his fights to take place on the ground.
If this fight does stay standing, though, Hioki's four-inch reach advantage should be enough for him to stay on the outside and negate Lamas' power. Still, a stand-up fight between these two competitors would likely result in a striking stalemate rather than an advantage for either fighter.
In each of his first two UFC fights, Hatsu Hioki has been able to secure two takedowns. Against Ricardo Lamas, working from the top position will be extremely important, so Hioki will want to be first to try to take this fight to the ground.
Lamas found himself down one round in his most recent fight against Cub Swanson, who was able to score on his first and only takedown attempt of the opening frame. However, when he was able to force Swanson to work off his back, it was Lamas who was able to lock up a submission in the second round.
A jiu-jitsu black belt, Hioki is more skilled than Swanson when it comes to both takedowns and grappling, so he should have much better luck gaining advantageous positions and avoiding precarious ones against Lamas.
Neither Hatsu Hioki nor Ricardo Lamas has ever been submitted in their MMA careers, but, if an edge had to be given to one fighter in that area, it would have to go to the Japanese fighter.
Lamas is coming off an impressive submission of Cub Swanson, but Hioki has picked up 12 of his 26 career wins via submission. With triangle chokes against Mark Hominick and Ronnie Mann, Hioki is also dangerous off his back, which could be an important attribute if he is taken down and forced to deal with the strong top game of Lamas.
Since Hioki was unable to submit George Roop and Bart Palaszewski on the ground, it seems unlikely this fight will end with a submission. However, if it does, Lamas will most likely be the fighter who is forced to tap.
Though Ricardo Lamas has spent the past three years fighting for Zuffa-owned promotions, he is still far less experienced than former Shooto and TKO featherweight champion Hatsu Hioki.
While Hioki has only fought inside the Octagon twice in his career, all of the Japanese fighter's prior fights were contested in significant promotions and many came against top competition. Over the course of his pre-UFC career, Hioki had already defeated Marlon Sandro, Mark Hominick, Jeff Curran, Rumina Sato, Masanori Kanehara and more.
If Hioki has anything going against him in this fight, it is the fact that he has far more to lose than Lamas. Already offered a UFC title fight, Hioki is one mistake away from having the ultimate achievement in MMA flushed away before his eyes. On Friday night, Hioki has to show the world that he didn't make a horrible mistake by turning down a bout with Jose Aldo.
Having gone to five split decisions in his career, Hatsu Hioki has a way of making fights he should win easily much more close than they should be. Against a skilled grappler in Ricardo Lamas, who won't be easy to submit, there's a good chance Hioki will have to depend on the judges to lean his way in a close fight.
After a disappointing performance against George Roop in his UFC debut, Hioki's grappling looked much better against Bart Palaszewski. Still, Hioki didn't turn in the type of performance many would have expected from the top featherweight when it was first discovered he would be joining the UFC.
Even if the same fighter that showed up against Palaszewski shows up against Lamas, Hioki's grappling should still be strong enough for him to pick up a win on Friday, but that might not be enough for the Japanese fighter to be offered another shot at the belt. Turning down fights is never a good way to win favor with the UFC brass, so Hioki might need to finish Lamas if he is seeking a title shot in his next fight.
Hioki defeats Lamas by decision.